Thursday, November 10, 2005

more than two sides to every story

Due to my own limited experience, there are many things I don't understand. This is not an admission of ignorance or laziness. I am neither ignorant nor lazy. But every individual's experience must be limited; to argue otherwise defies logic.

I don't understand the "strike" that graduate teaching assistants at NYU are holding, causing classes to be canceled. They want to have union rights. I just don't get it. I was a teaching assistant at the University of Chicago. I never considered myself an employee of the university, nor did anyone else I knew in a similar position. I thought of it as a position of privilege, an honor bestowed on me by my department. After all, not all grad students are asked to be teaching assistants. The position provides a very important benefit: college-level teaching experience, which, especially in today's very tight academic job market, is important to one's career. These teaching assistantships provide full tuition remission and, in my case, a fairly healthy paycheck (by graduate student standards anyway). But it is a quid pro quo; the university has the benefit of providing instructors for lower-level classes at a lower price that they would incur paying a full-time faculty member; the teaching assistant enhances his/her resumé and gains experience; it is a sign also of some achievement on the student's part (other wise he/she would not have been given the position).

As sympathetic as I am to workers' rights, this is a case of misplaced sentiment. And it undermines the struggle of legitimate efforts--Walmart employees, for example--to unionize to protect their jobs and livelihood.

I think it is yet another case of the sort of blindly following some ideology that students can be prone to, especially students at an elite, expensive university. I know. I was one myself. But I did know what was work and what wasn't. I had been a janitor. I cleaned horse stalls. I had a construction job one summer. I was happy for the chance to teach bright motivated students at a first-rate university. These students should open their eyes to reality.

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